Instant Feedback: Bosses Use Data Tracking in the Workplace

August 20th, 2015

What does data have to do with how we work? How sure are we of our efficiency in spending our time during work? Bosses everywhere want to know. NY Times reported that a new generation of workplace technology is making it possible to track and manage employees in a way that was not possible before. But how much data collection is too much?

Who is using this technology? Apparently all types, including nonprofits, universities, digital start-ups, retailers, and even old-line manufacturers. They hope by monitoring workers’ time and efforts, they can help them focus, encourage them, and ensure that they are timely. Another benefit touted is that the programs help geographically dispersed workers, including those who work from home, to increase connectivity and productivity.

Some workers are saying they work 50 or more hours a week. One reason is because they feel tethered to the office outside normal business hours since they were expected to “check email and stay in touch” when they were not working.

Within this new fold, gone are the days of traditional yearlong reviews. Instead, workers are receiving instant feedback and something more akin to coaching. For example, at General Electric, after a meeting or presentation, a manager can tap on an app to write short memos of encouragement, advice, or criticism.

“People in sales are continually measured and always know where they stand. Now this is happening in the rest of the white-collar work force,” said Paul Hamerman, a workplace technology analyst with Forrester Research in the NYT article. “Done properly, it will increase engagement. Done in the wrong way, employees will feel pressured or micromanaged.”

Sometimes over-tracking and constant monitoring can backfire as in the case of Myrna Arias, a Southern California saleswoman for Intermex, a money-transfer company based in Miami, who was required to download an app on her cellphone that tracked her whereabouts 24 hours a day. After she deleted the app, she was fired. In a pending lawsuit, she is accusing Intermex of invasion of privacy and wrongful termination.

However, companies who make work force technology relies more on engagement than enforcement say their product increases transparency and fairness.

“In the office of the future,” said Kris Duggan, chief executive of BetterWorks, a Silicon Valley start-up founded in 2013 in the article, “you will always know what you are doing and how fast you are doing it. I couldn’t imagine living in a world where I’m supposed to guess what’s important, a world filled with meetings, messages, conference rooms, and at the end of the day I don’t know if I delivered anything meaningful.”